Paramount // 2004 // 98 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // October 11th, 2010
There was a time -- a time before cable -- when the local anchorman reigned supreme.
The comic empire of writer/producer/director Judd Apatow begins with the release of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Prior to that, Apatow was involved as a writer or producer in numerous ground-breaking though unsuccessful television comedies, including The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, and Freaks and Geeks , as well as The Cable Guy (a terribly underrated black comedy) on the big screen. With Anchorman, Apatow (as producer) finally delivered a major hit, and then followed it up with a series of major financial successes -- The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Knocked Up, and Superbad -- that defined the tone of cinema comedy in the first decade of the 21st century. A comedy empire was born.
Because of its box office success, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has been released on home video in so many permutations that it's difficult to keep track of them all. There were theatrical and unrated DVDs in both widescreen and full frame, a DVD gift pack that bundled the unrated disc with the straight-to-DVD novelty feature, Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie, and an HD DVD treatment of the unrated version of the flick. Now Anchorman arrives on Blu-ray in a set that gathers every supplement from every prior release, making it the definitive home video version of the movie.
It is the 1970s, and Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell, Land of the Lost) is San Diego's number one television news anchorman: dapper, mustachioed, scotch drinking, sexist, and dumb as a rock. Burgundy leads the KVWN-TV Channel 4 Evening News team, which includes Stetson-wearing sportscaster Champ Kind (Dave Koechner, Thank You for Smoking), ladies' man/investigative reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd, Knocked Up), and mentally retarded weather man Brick Tamland (Steve Carell, The 40-Year-Old Virgin). The boys' world is turned upside down when the network demands the addition of a woman to the team. Their hazing of reporter Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate, Married with Children) is relentless, though Burgundy soon falls in love with her. After a mishap involving a burrito, a biker, and Ron's beloved pet dog Baxter, Burgundy loses his job and Veronica is propelled into the lead anchor job. Down on his luck, Ron spends the next few months finding himself. A chance for redemption finally arrives when danger rears its ugly head during the Channel 4 news teams' coverage of the birth of a baby panda at the San Diego zoo.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is a comedy built on the tackiness, sexism, and pervasively politically incorrect attitudes of the 1970s, conventional screwball-style romance, and heaps of improvisation by the lead cast. Its approach to summoning laughs from is scattered and multi-pronged. It is neither a smart comedy, nor a stupid one -- or perhaps it is both. The flick offers a weird but dense mix of snappy dialogue, light vulgarity meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator, a few smart nods to '70s culture (particularly a brief a cappella performance of the Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight"), standard-issue jokes about the shallowness and artificiality of television talking heads, and a few bold (yet only semi-successful) ventures into the theater of the absurd (as when Burgundy and his crew are involved in a West Side Story style rumble with other local television news team gangs). Anchorman is a mutt of a movie, its whole lesser than the sum of its parts. Luckily, for Apatow, Ferrell, and director Adam McKay, those parts are frequently laugh-aloud funny.
It was with Anchorman (and the Jon Favreau-directed Christmas movie Elf) that Will Ferrell made the leap from notable Saturday Night Live cast member to feature comedy leading man. Ferrell's style evokes a love-it-or-hate-it response from audiences and critics alike. What I've always admired about him, even when the material or his tendency toward improvisational excess fails him, is his unselfconscious commitment to character. His performances are driven by a straight-faced commitment that never gives way to preening irony. His approach is perfectly embodied in Ron Burgundy, who comes off as genuinely dense and egocentric rather than as a self-aware mask created by the sort of comedian more interested in being thought of as funny than in creating a fully immersive comic experience for the audience. Ferrell's deadpan earnestness is the reason we like Burgundy even though he's a complete tool: the character may be smarmy, but the actor's approach to his performance is not.
Ferrell is assisted by a fine supporting cast. Steve Carell's odd-to-the-extreme turn as Brick Tamland paved the way for his much-deserved lead role in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Paul Rudd's comic timing as Brian Fantana led to his becoming a stalwart supporting character in a variety of later Apatow productions (most notably Knocked Up). Dave Koechner's is the broadest performance in the movie (and that's saying something), but it works given Champ Kind's Texas swagger and he-man devotion to sports, drink, and womanizing. Fred Willard is predictably hilarious as the gang's clueless, sexist boss, hounded by troubles with his delinquent, acid-dropping son. It's easy to underestimate the delicacy with which Christina Applegate balances laborious straight-woman duties with sharp comedy that derives from Veronica's intelligence, which dwarfs that of every male character in the movie. She somehow manages to make us believe that Corningstone is smart, professional, and inexplicably in love with Ron Burgundy; it's no mean feat for any actor. The cast's individual strengths are magnified by their generosity toward one another. Watching the various behind-the-scenes extras included on this disc, one gets the sense that they were having too much fun during the shoot to get caught up in the ego clashes that so often plague teams of comedians competing for laughs. Their sense of goofy joy is infectious. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy transcends its thin premise and boilerplate plot largely on the strength of a cast that finds a sweet balance between creating (admittedly absurd) characters, and going to whatever extreme necessary to elicit audience laughter. It's not the equal of Apatow's best efforts (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad), but it's still damned funny.
This two-disc Blu-ray edition of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy doesn't smell of rich mahogany, but it's definitely classy. First of all, you get two versions of the film: a PG-13 rated theatrical cut that runs 94 minutes, and an unrated version that runs four minutes longer (if subjected to MPAA scrutiny, it would probably earn an R, though it doesn't approach the vulgar heights of later hard-R Apatow productions). Both versions are on the set's first disc, presented in a 1080p/AVC transfer that takes advantage of seamless branching. The high definition upgrade delivers excellent detail in close-ups, accurate colors, and improved depth over the standard definition release. The movie isn't a masterpiece of cinematography, but it looks quite good on Blu-ray. The audio track is a lossless DTS-HD surround mix that is crisp and vibrant. Both cuts of the film are accompanied by audio commentaries that are about 90 percent identical in their content. The tracks primarily feature Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, though they're joined briefly by Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate, and Dave Koechner, as well as singer Lou Rawls and comedians Andy Richter and Kyle Gass. The commentaries deliver a wealth of horsing around and little in the way of scene-specific discussion of the film. There's some genuine comedy to be had, but not enough to fill an hour and a half.
In addition to the two versions of the film and the commentary tracks, Disc One includes a solid batch of video supplements. There's a collection of 36 deleted scenes, running almost an hour in length. They consist primarily of alternate improvised takes of scenes in the final film. Many are laugh-out-loud funny. An eight-minute bloopers reel is only marginally sillier than the movie itself. There's a music video of Burgundy, Champ, Fantana, and Brick performing "Afternoon Delight." Not just a rehash of their performance in the movie, it's a full-fledged Seventies-tastic segment loaded with gaudy video effects and bad fashion. Finally, there's Burgundy's two-minute audition tape for fledgling cable channel ESPN, which ends in the anchorman's angry repudiation of the very idea of a 24-hour sports news channel.
Disc Two of the set is a high definition presentation of Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie. It is essentially a 93-minute alternate version of Anchorman that includes alternate takes (many included in the deleted scenes reel on Disc One), and an abandoned subplot about the antics of The Alarm Clock, a militant group modeled after the Symbionese Liberation Army and other '70s extremist groups. The movie offers some decent laughs, though it's not entirely coherent as a stand-alone story.
In addition to the second feature, Disc Two contains a hefty archive of supplements that amount to collections of raw production footage and an archive of promotional material. There are five public service announcements by Burgundy (improvised Ferrell), pieces of which were used in the film; a work print version of Burgundy's rambling and sometimes angry Emmy speech; a collection of alternate line reads from 27 scenes in the movie (the entire reel runs nearly 40 minutes); raw footage of Ferrell, Rudd, Carell, and Koechner recording "Afternoon Delight"; and multiple takes of a piece shot to celebrate Loewes Theaters on their 100th anniversary. There are segments for the MTV Music Video Awards of Burgundy interviewing Rebecca Romijn, Jim Caviezel, and Burt Reynolds; electronic press kits produced for Cinemax and Comedy Central; a faux interview of Burgundy by Bill Kurtis; audition footage for eight of the supporting cast members; footage of table reads of six scenes from the movie; nine minutes of rehearsal footage involving Ferrell, Rudd, Koechner, and Carell; raw video footage (not used in the film) of Brick and Fantana doing on-the-scene reporting; and two minutes of behind-the-scenes production footage. Finally, there's a teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, and TV spot for the movie.
The standard Blu-ray keepcase that holds the two discs is housed in a cardboard slipcover that contains a pack of 12 Anchorman trading cards, as well as a 32-page booklet called "The Many Months of Ron Burgundy." The insert is a faux day planner with the news reader's inane observations scrawled in pencil, pen, and crayon throughout.
With a spiffy high definition upgrade, every supplement from every previous home video release of the movie, and a couple entertaining pieces of tchotcke Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Blu-Ray) The "Rich Mahogany" Edition is what every Blu-ray release ought to be: definitive.
Sweet Lincoln's mullet!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical Version
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Bonus Feature
* Music Video
* Cast Auditions
* Table Read
* Insert Booklet
* Trading Cards